In 2016, my elder daughter told me about problems in her marriage. She’d been having an affair with someone with two small children.
She was always headstrong in her teenage years, but at university she met someone who was good for her. I couldn’t wish for a better man: a lovely, caring, friendly personality I can’t praise enough.
He is the son I never had and I love him. My younger daughter says he made her sister a better person, but he let her have her own way all the time. I never liked how she’d treat him at times. He would wait on her, fetching drinks and so on.
I have friends who have been made miserable by having to stand on the sidelines while a son embarks on a destructive affair or a daughter does the same
Why has this marriage broken up? She says he’s not been there emotionally for her as he’s very ambitious and works long hours — and also to provide well for my daughter, who likes to shop, shop, shop. They had an extravagant lifestyle, but now she says this never made her happy. Well, she seemed very happy for ten years!
Yes, she and her husband had some problems, but instead of sorting them out she turned to someone else. Fast forward to today — my son-in-law lives in a rented flat, nearby.
My younger daughter’s husband is very good friends with him. My daughter and he still meet. He’s hoping they can get back together.
She knows I love him and want him to be a part of my life. Their old house (40 minutes’ drive away) sits empty most of the time because she stays a lot with this married man, who left his wife and kids.
She is now involved with his children, when he has them. She won’t discuss her life with me or anyone in the family. We haven’t fallen out.
To give any opinion would make it worse because of her strong personality. We meet up, but she prefers we don’t talk about it. She left her job, but now has a better one and has lost a lot of weight.
Sometimes I think, it’s her life and who am I to tell her who can make her happy? Then I feel devastated, for how can she hurt so many people: her husband, that man’s poor wife and children age four and six … I think my daughter is unhappy and on a course of self-destruction. But what do I know?
Over the past year I’ve had therapy, although I stopped, as it was costing money. I know the theory, I just can’t put it into practice.
How can I clear my mind about my daughter and this break-up? I can’t talk to my other daughter, as it upsets her, too. My friends know a little, but have their own problems. I feel lost and don’t know what to do.
This letter made me very sad, because it reminded me of how a whole family can be devastated when a marriage ends.
It was certainly the case with my own, and I have friends who have been made miserable by having to stand on the sidelines while a son embarks on a destructive affair or a daughter does the same; or if perhaps either parent takes on such a burden of work that the children suffer.
What can you say? Nothing. Yet you want to try, because that’s natural. Bossy parents find it impossible to keep their mouths shut and loving parents will always want to express a view, and that’s where many a family row begins.
It’s hard, because you’ve brought them up and been there to lean on. So stepping back and relinquishing ‘control’ is never easy.
As is so often the case, your original email was over four times as long as I have space for here, with a level of complexity that would have lost many readers.
It was very hard indeed to cut, but I believe I have stripped it down to the main issue. However, few problems are one-dimensional, and you bring to this issue of your daughter’s behaviour all the baggage from your past.
There are your two marriages; your first husband’s affair and abandonment when your youngest was only nine months; your late mother’s health problems and death; your second husband’s lack of support, culminating in your walking out of that marriage. A complex catalogue of woes.
It sounds as if you have been unhappy for decades and I just wish that along the way somebody could have helped you.
Your daughters’ father (your first husband) treated you badly and gave you no financial support — so it would be only natural for you to yearn for your daughters to be happy and stable in their marriages. All mothers want that, but surely your personal experience would have played a part.
I also note that your daughter’s marriage problems were happening at the same time as your second marriage was in dire straights, so I’m suspecting you feel guilty that you were preoccupied.
None of this is your fault. You can do nothing to change the situation. You are wise not to have quarrelled with your daughter, even though you can’t help judging her behaviour. But you are not responsible for the hurt she has caused her husband; nor can you help the fact that the lover’s wife has been abandoned — just as you were all those years ago. Hasn’t this reopened some of the old wounds?
Perhaps your daughter will return to her husband. Perhaps her relationship with the lover will flourish and be happy. Perhaps your beloved son-in-law will fall in love with someone new and gradually detach himself from you.
All you can do is stay strong — in order to be a loving mother and grandmother and be ready to listen to all their troubles.
Am I an old fool to dream of love?
I am 65, semi-retired, but pretty fit and sporty.
Seven years ago I lost the best wife in the world to cancer and plumbed depths of misery that are difficult to describe.
But move forward to last year — and I have fallen for a much younger woman. I met her parents at a social club, went to their house and their only daughter (let’s call her Jean) was very warm and friendly.
She is 36 and very attractive in all ways. She is now working part-time with me and all the signals suggest she has grown genuinely fond of me.
So I confess that my heart is on fire and smoke has got into my eyes, clouding my judgment.
Although I realise I love the girl, I simply do not know how to proceed — if at all. My head is telling me to forget it and not to be a silly old fool, whereas my heart is telling me otherwise.
I am afraid that she might react badly and see me as some sort of pervert who has quietly been biding his time for the right moment.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not after sex, but merely wish to replace the deeply loving relationship I had with my wife — and this woman makes me feel like that could be possible, irrespective of age.
Does this have a future — or is my head right when it tells me to ignore my foolish heart?
Oh yes, hearts can be very foolish, but who is to say that’s always wrong? Who dares suggest that our emotions are regulated by strict seasons, so that once late autumn arrives and winter is in the air, they should pull down the blinds and hibernate? It doesn’t work that way.
Once, many years ago, I met an elderly artist (very happily married, by the way) who sweetly confessed to me that he was always ‘falling in love’.
He didn’t mean he was having affairs, or even thinking of it: no, he was expressing an openness to feeling — to love and beauty — that would continue until the moment of his death.
Celebrating that life force, I will not join the ranks of those all too ready to joke about, or condemn, relationships with very large age gaps. I have known some blissfully happy marriages like that; one indeed where the husband was 40 years older.
Why shouldn’t a man in his 60s fall for a woman in her 30s? For that matter, why shouldn’t a woman born in 1946 marry a man born in 1963 — as I did?
Imagine if we all lost our birth certificates and could only be assessed on looks and joie de vivre. Some young people are sensible and ‘middle-aged’ while some oldsters are as merry as daffodils dancing in the breeze. Some older people take care of themselves and look terrific, while the young don’t bother and let themselves go to seed. There are no rules.
Nevertheless, it is only common sense to counsel caution — especially in a relationship that’s relatively new and where there’s a perceived inequality, such as age or income.
You adored your wife and suffered greatly when she died, as do many widowers. Some actively seek a new partner, but you did not: you met Jean by accident and have grown to value her personality and her company.
So far so good. But you could easily spoil things were you to make some declaration of affection, or pester her with flowers and/or gifts. In your uncut letter you told me one or two little things which have led you to think she is genuinely fond of you, and I see them that way, too. But I’d still be careful.
Why not proceed just as you are, enjoying the friendship for what it is? I’d hate you to get your hopes up and be disappointed, so I think you must wait and see where her ‘signals’ lead.
You can’t put a price on affection
The press release from an online marketplace claimed to know everything about women and Valentine’s Day.
Its survey said women expect their partner to spend between £50 and £100 on gifts and between £100 and £150 on a Valentine’s Day date. More than three-quarters expect to be ‘wined and dined’ at a ‘fancy restaurant’.
Who are all these women? If I told my husband I’d like an expensive trinket to mark February 14 and then a posh meal — believe me, I’d receive a very short, sharp reply. He’d mutter something about restaurant wine mark-ups and suggest a visit to our favourite supermarket and a lit candle on the kitchen table. Thank goodness!
I detest the cliche idea of ‘romance’. It has nothing to do with real relationships.
The idea that money spent equals ‘love’ and that it will help sustain the ‘thrill’ is pernicious — because if you’re immature enough to expect hearts and flowers to last you’ll soon skip off, disappointed, to find the next delusion. Send a card, by all means (that’s fun), but don’t create another greedfest, full of silly expectations.
The actual history of the feast of St Valentine is fascinating, although obscure. There’s more than one St Valentine and lots of legends which cumulatively leave you none the wiser.
Many people accuse Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English poetry, of ‘inventing’ Valentine’s Day. In his poem The Parliament Of Foules (c.1375) Chaucer describes a beautiful Queen, a Nature Goddess, who presides over a glorious spring love-in of birds: ‘And there was not any bird born of love [meaning sex] that was not ready in her presence to hear her and receive her judgment. For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when all the birds of every kind come to choose their mates.’
Isn’t that fun? I’d much rather visualise a beautiful battalion of bonking birds than a monstrous regiment of the human sort — holding out manicured talons for expensive gifts and overpriced restaurant meals.
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
Ogden Nash (U.S. poet and humorist, 1902-71)
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